Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New body styles, diesel power, all-wheel drive available.
The 2014 BMW 3 Series lineup expands dramatically with a new Gran Turismo, a new Sports Wagon, a new diesel-powered model, and the availability of xDrive all-wheel drive. The sedans were completely redesigned for the 2012 model year, and the 3 Series lineup is now in its sixth generation.
The 2014 BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo is larger and roomier than the previous-generation version and is available in all-wheel-drive BMW 328i xDrive and BMW 335i xDrive variants. Also joining the 3 Series lineup is the 2014 BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon, which has been updated with the latest-generation architecture and a choice of two engines: the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine found in the 328i sedan, or an all-new diesel version.
The new diesel engine, available on both the sedan and wagon, is a 2.0-liter TwinPower four-cylinder that makes 180 horsepower and 280 pound feet of torque, the latter available at just 1750 rpm. The diesel-powered BMW 328d sedan comes with the standard rear-wheel drive or xDrive all-wheel drive. All BMW 328d Sports Wagons come with xDrive all-wheel drive.
As is typical with diesel power, fuel economy is admirable in the BMW 328d sedan and wagon. Rear-wheel-drive 328d sedans are EPA-rated 32/45 mpg City/Highway, and the 328d xDrive sedan and wagon are rated 31/43 mpg City/Highway.
Also new for 2014 is BMW Assist eCall, an emergency crash notification system, as standard equipment on all its 3 Series models, along with 10 years of service. Previously, the eCall services were only available when bundled with certain optional packages.
The 3 Series coupe and convertible have been discontinued for 2014, and are replaced by the all-new BMW 4 Series. A new high-performance M3 is scheduled to reappear later for 2014, after taking a hiatus for one model year. Sedans, all-new for 2012, carry over basically unchanged for 2014.
The most affordable car in the lineup, the BMW 320i, uses a less powerful version of the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the 328i with a modest 180 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The 2014 BMW 320i earns an EPA-estimated 23/36 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual transmission and 24/36 mpg City/Highway with the automatic. All-wheel-drive BMW 320i xDrive models are automatic-only and achieve 23/35 mpg City/Highway.
One of our favorites is the BMW 328i, with the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 making 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. This version accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds with 8-speed automatic or in just 5.7 seconds with 6-speed manual. The same feat takes the Audi A4 2.0T 6.5 seconds. The BMW 328i achieves an EPA-estimated 22/35 mpg City/Highway with the 6-speed manual, and 23/33 mpg City/Highway with the automatic on both RWD and AWD models.
Most powerful is the BMW 335i, with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are the same 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic, with a 0-60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds with either gearbox. Fuel economy estimates are just 20/30 mpg City/Highway with 6-speed manual, but an impressive 23/33 mpg with the 8-speed automatic. AWD models get 20/28 mpg with the manual and 20/30 mpg with the automatic. Premium gasoline is required for all 3 Series models.
ActiveHybrid3 is a 3 Series model that combines an electric motor and lithium-ion battery with the 335i's 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. It's good for 335 net horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. It works well, but it only slightly bests the fuel efficiency of the gasoline-powered models: ActiveHybrid3 is EPA-rated 25/33 mpg City/Highway. Considering the near-$15,000 price premium, we recommend the 328i or new 328d for the best combination of performance and frugality. ActiveHybrid3 may beat them in terms of emissions, however.
The 2014 BMW 3 Series sedan remains the benchmark among luxury sport compact cars such as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Lexus IS. The BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon is most closely matched by the Audi allroad. Though all offer similar dimensions and features, none can quite match the weight balance and performance-oriented dynamics of the BMW. The new Cadillac ATS is perhaps the closest contender on the racetrack, though its angular American styling is in sharp contrast to the German and Japanese cars. The 3 Series Gran Turismo lacks any apples-to-apples competitors, though it's a viable alternative for drivers who want more space without the stigma of a station wagon.
The 2014 BMW 320i sedan ($32,550) uses a 180-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 and comes standard with dual-zone automatic climate control, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth, BMW's iDrive interface with a 6.5-inch display screen, a premium audio system with CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and USB port, split folding rear seat, foglamps, rain-sensing automatic wipers and 17-inch alloy wheels. An automatic stop/start feature is also included to help save fuel. The BMW 320i xDrive ($34,550) adds all-wheel drive.
BMW 328i ($37,100) gets you a more powerful 240-hp version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 and upgrades to eight-way power-adjustable front seats with driver memory functions, rearview camera and auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors. BMW 328i xDrive includes all-wheel drive ($39,100).
The 2014 BMW 328d ($38,600) is a diesel-powered version of the 328i. The BMW 328d xDrive includes all-wheel drive ($40,600). The BMW 328i xDrive Sports Wagon ($41,450) and diesel-powered BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon ($42,950) are equipped similarly.
The BMW 335i sedan ($43,200), BMW 335i xDrive sedan ($45,200 AWD), and BMW ActiveHybrid3 ($49,700) use a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 and upgrade further with a moonroof, xenon HID headlights with adaptive and auto-leveling features, and 18-inch wheels.
The BMW 328i xDrive Gran Turismo ($41,450) and 335i xDrive Gran Turismo ($46,850) are equipped similarly to their sedan counterparts and come only with the 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Options for 3 Series include the Cold Weather Package ($950), which adds a heated front and rear seats, a steering wheel and retractable headlight washers. The Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000) adds adaptive suspension and variable sport steering. A Premium Package includes leather upholstery, keyless access, lumbar support, satellite radio with one year subscription and a power moonroof on 328 models. The Technology Package ($3,150) adds navigation with real-time traffic information and touchpad control, head-up display, the BMW Apps interface and enhanced Bluetooth and smartphone integration. Standalone options include leather upholstery ($1,450), heated front seats ($500), and a variety of wheels and tires.
Three additional trim packages are available: Luxury, Sport and M Sport. Each features unique wheels, exterior trim, interior styling, wheels and suspension tuning.
Safety features on all 3 Series include front-impact airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of impact, front passenger side-impact airbags, full-cabin, curtain-type head protection airbags, ABS, stability control, traction control and BMW Assist eCall crash notification system. Optional safety features include rearview camera and park distance control. The Driver Assistance Plus Package adds side and top view cameras plus several active safety features like blind spot detection, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, pedestrian warning and collision mitigation. Available xDrive all-wheel drive can enhance handling stability and control in slippery conditions.
Now in its sixth generation, the 3 Series sedan is instantly recognizable as a BMW. Signature design cues include the twin kidney grille, stretched back, slightly wraparound headlamps with double-bezel lamps, short front and rear overhangs and a uniquely shaped side rear window with a distinctive curve in the bodywork known as the Hofmeister kink.
Sedans are available in Luxury, Sport and M Sport trims. Each has unique exterior trim. Luxury Line uses chrome kidney grille bars, a chrome exhaust pipe trim and a multi-spoke wheel design. Sport Line comes with black kidney grille bars and a five double-spoke wheel design. The M Sport line adds an aero body kit that includes a larger lower front air intake, sculpted rocker sills and different five-spoke wheels.
The Sports Wagon is decidedly a wagon, but retains a front end nearly identical to the sedans. From the side, it looks boxy, although the gentle curving slope from the top of the roof to the rear bumper softens an otherwise squarish appearance. Like the sedans, the Sports Wagon is available with Luxury, Sport and M Sport trims.
The new Gran Turismo bears the least resemblance to the rest of the 3 Series lineup. Based on the long-wheelbase 3 Series architecture developed for the Chinese market, it's 7.9 inches longer than the 3 Series Sports Wagon with a 4.3-inch longer wheelbase. It's also 3.2 inches taller. Not quite a wagon and not really a crossover vehicle, the GT looks big and tall. The gaping maw and fastback silhouette from many angles looks more like a mini version of the 5 Series GT than its 3 Series relatives. In back, BMW's first active rear spoiler sits atop the GT's shelfy behind, which reduces lift at highway speeds.
The standard interior looks like traditional BMW. The base seats are nice, and the leatherette looks and feels like leather. It's functional, but some might consider it boring. The Luxury line interior is traditional and attractive, and is our choice for commuting, business or road trips. Luxury Lines are warm and pretty with tan leather and burr walnut wood. The Sport line is all about the business of driving, featuring black seats with high bolsters and black and red interior trim, our choice for track days.
The different trim levels available on the sedans have unique features on the inside. A choice of leatherettes (vinyls) and leathers is available for the different trim levels. All the seats we tried, base, Sport, Luxury and M Sport, were comfortable and held us in place. We hardly took note of them, a good sign. And getting in and out of these cars was easy.
Regardless of trim, the 3 Series sedan's cockpit is oriented around driving, the dash angled slightly toward the driver bringing all controls within easy reach. Four circular dials (fuel gauge, speedometer, tachometer and oil temperature gauge) come with a black panel display. Climate controls are traditional BMW, intuitive and easy to operate. Overall, the trim is nice. Soft-touch plastic inside the interior door handles feels upscale. We didn't care for the plastic glovebox latch, which looked and felt cheap.
The iDrive screen is large, bright and easy to read. But unless your car is equipped with navigation, it will be of little use. In one of our test cars without any options, the screen simply displayed audio, phone and vehicle information. The pricey Technology package adds a whole suite of features, including navigation with real-time traffic information and BMW Connected, an app that allows users to sync their smartphones with their cars to use Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, a vehicle finder function and more. The BMW Apps suite integrates selected subscription-based applications into the car such as Pandora, Stitcher and MOG. This package also adds a head-up display.
Cars can come equipped with a traditional rearview camera that automatically displays what's behind the car, or an optional Surround View with side- and top-view cameras, which offers a bird's-eye perspective of the vehicle and the area around it. If that's not enough, the optional Parking Assistant helps the driver parallel park by finding a space, turning the steering wheel, practically parking the car itself. We recommend the rearview camera. Besides helping the driver spot a child behind the car when backing up, it's handy for everyday use, allowing the driver to use all of the available space when parking without touching the car behind and speeding the parking process. The other features are bonus features fun to use occasionally but not something we'd normally miss.
Getting in and out of the back seats is easy in all variants. In the sedan, rear legroom measures 35.1 inches, and headroom comes in at 37.7 inches, which is about on par with the Audi A4, but slightly more than the Mercedes-Benz C250. Trunk space in the 3 Series sedan is typical for the class at 13 cubic feet.
The 328i Sports Wagon is just as comfortable as the sedan; however, the rear center seat's tall headrest hampers rearward visibility so much that we opted to drive our test car with the center seat folded down, exposing the rear pass-through slot. The wagon's wide C and D pillars create large blind spots. In the back, the wagon gets slightly more headroom with 38.3 inches. Cargo space in the wagon is more plentiful, at 17.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, enough for two large suitcases and multiple small carry-ons. About 53 cubic feet is available with the rear seats folded flat.
Gran Turismo models have seats that sit more than two inches higher than the sedans, giving a commanding view of the road. There's also more leg- and headroom, including 2.8 inches more legroom in the rear than in the sedan and wagon. This is the roomiest of the bunch, with 18.3 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place.
The BMW 3 Series sedans are pleasant to drive in practically any situation, and all the available engines are more than capable. There are differences, however.
The BMW 328i is perfectly able on the road but doesn't sound refined when parked and idling, where the clatter of the direct-injection engine is noisy. It could almost be mistaken for a diesel. This is a minor nitpick, however, as there is nothing wrong with it underway, especially at higher speeds. The turbocharger provides boost through a broad torque range, delivering 255 foot-pounds of torque from 1250 to 4200 rpm. We found the torque of this engine gives it plenty of power to climb steep mountain terrain at freeway speeds, where the cars around us were struggling to keep up. The 328i offers strong acceleration performance for passing maneuvers at highway speeds, and getting from just about any speed to 80 mph is a breeze. BMW says the 328i can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, which is quite quick.
The BMW 335i's turbocharged six-cylinder engine purrs like a contented cat when idling. But in most situations, we found the power advantage of the 335i over the 328i to be negligible. The 335i has more torque, with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6. It makes 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque from 1300-5000 rpm, a broad power band that gives the 335i strong response to throttle input at all engine speeds. In other words, just stand on it and she goes. While driving the 328i and 335i at Laguna Seca Raceway near Monterey, California, we noticed the six-cylinder engine delivered noticeably more thrust up the steep straightaway to The Corkscrew at the top of the circuit. Turbo lag is nonexistent. Acceleration performance from 0-60 mph comes in just 5.4 seconds with either transmission, according to BMW.
The 8-speed automatic works very well. Some drivers prefer to shift with the paddles, but most will simply put it in Drive and let it do its thing. We still enjoy the manual transmission available on the gasoline-powered sedans; clutch-pedal effort makes taking off easy, and the gear ratios are perfectly spaced for either engine.
Handling is excellent on all variants of the sedan, and all offer a good balance of ride quality and handling response. The steering is light at low speeds, with proper resistance and feedback at higher speeds. Near-50/50 weight distribution, aided by locating the engine behind the front axle, leaves the driver in full command. It's an easy car to drive fast. We drove hard up a primitive mountain road, overdriving the tires, allowing the active safety features to limit speed around the bumpy switchbacks. At Laguna Seca Raceway, we strapped on helmets, switched off the electronics, and pushed hard around the turns. These cars are very easy to control at the limit, giving the driver confidence and serving up generous helpings of automotive joy.
Traction control kicks in when accelerating hard out of low-speed corners, eliminating wheelspin and reducing the chance of a spin. When driving hard, on a racetrack, for example, we found it beneficial to switch the system off, allowing the car to slide more and the rear tires to slip to achieve higher cornering speeds and more responsive acceleration performance coming out of the turns. Traction control is useful on an unfamiliar mountain road, but won't help you win an autocross. The active safety features can be switched off or dialed back in degrees, allowing the driver to tune the system to conditions and his or her preferences. Most of the time you'll want all this stuff switched on.
Braking is excellent in all models. The large brake calipers and rotors deliver more clamping force than most competitors. And thanks to BMW's electronic management, the brake pads move within a hair of the rotors if the driver suddenly releases the gas pedal, ready for the driver to slam on the brakes. The pads also lightly sweep the rotors every few seconds when it's raining to reduce moisture buildup.
The new diesel engine found on the 328d is surprisingly smooth and quiet. There is still an audible ticking noise at lower speeds and the slight rumble characteristic of all diesels, but it's refined in comparison to the old rough, smelly diesel engines of years past. Although torque is a healthy 280 foot-pounds, the 328d is still the slowest 3 Series of the bunch, with a 0-60 mph time of more than 7 seconds, according to BMW. There's sufficient thrust off the line, but you won't win any drag races. Tall gearing designed to maximize fuel economy keeps the 328d running at low rpms most of the time.
The new xDrive Sports Wagon uses the same engines as the 328i and 328d, and are both paired with the 8-speed automatic transmission. Sports Wagons boasts similar driving dynamics to their sedan counterparts. We found the 328i xDrive Sports Wagon every bit as nimble as the sedan. Around corners, you'd be hard-pressed to remember you have a copious rear end bolted onto the back (that is, if it weren't for the visibility issues caused by the wide D pillar and rear center-seat headrest).
An automatic Stop/Start function comes standard on all sedans. While it helps fuel economy, this feature annoys us. Although the latest version doesn't shutter quite so violently as the first iteration, it continues to be invasive and, in our opinion, kicks in too soon. After only a couple of seconds of idle, even if you're just pausing briefly, the engine shuts off. We found this especially disconcerting to crossing pedestrians who looked startled when they heard our car fire up just as they crossed our front bumper. The system can be turned off. Similar systems from Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and other brands are more refined.
The 2014 BMW 3 Series remains an outstanding choice in its class. While the six-cylinder BMW 335i is slightly more enjoyable, we heartily recommend the four-cylinder 328i. The new diesel engine in the 328d is smooth and efficient. The new Sports Wagon retains the sedan's precise dynamics while offering more space. The cost of the ActiveHybrid3 is harder to justify.
Laura Burstein reported on the 328d, Sports Wagon and other models from Los Angeles, with NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reporting on the 3 Series sedans from Monterey, California.
BMW 320i sedan ($32,550); 320i xDrive sedan ($34,550); 328i sedan ($37,100); 328i xDrive sedan ($39,100); 328d sedan ($38,600); 335i sedan ($43,200); 335i xDrive sedan ($45,200); 328i xDrive Sports Wagon ($41,450); 328d xDrive Sports Wagon ($42,950); 328i xDrive Gran Turismo ($41,450); 335i xDrive Gran Turismo ($46,850).
Options As Tested
BMW 328i sedan ($37,100).
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